A male employee in the Yakima County Clerk’s Office had told supervisors about unwanted advances from county Clerk Kim Eaton long before a sexual harassment complaint was filed against her, according to documents the county released Friday under a court order.
The male employee had told supervisors he feared retaliation if he took his concerns to the county’s human resources department, the documents say.
The documents, released as a result of a public records request filed by the Yakima Herald-Republic, indicate that the formal complaint was sparked by a “sexually explicit” photograph that Eaton sent via cellphone text message to the employee. Afterward, the employee told the human resources director he felt that Eaton had been “stalking” him since the 1990s, long before she hired him to work in the office.
The Herald-Republic has chosen not to identify the male employee.
It is unclear from the 15 separate documents provided to the newspaper who made the complaint to county human resources last September. Eaton and her attorney, Tyler Hinckley of Yakima, have said in court papers that the employee filed the complaint. However, county Commissioner Rand Elliott said Friday a third party made the complaint.
The county released the documents after Eaton decided not to appeal Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Frances Chmelewski’s order, made a day earlier, that partially redacted copies of the investigative report be released. Eaton, who is on medical leave, told the newspaper earlier this week that she did not wish to comment on the case.
The judge’s order followed her ruling Tuesday that blocked Yakima County from releasing 95 text messages from Eaton to the employee.
Chmelewski concluded the texts are public records but are exempt from disclosure under the state Public Records Act because their release would violate Eaton’s right to privacy. Chmelewski said the exemption was warranted because the text messages were “highly offensive” and that their disclosure was of no legitimate concern to the public.
The documents issued Friday contain interview notes with the employee and Eaton, and a copy of an agreement between the county and Eaton outlining her steps to resolve the complaint.
The records indicate county Human Resources Director Linda Dixon moved quickly to investigate the complaint, filed on or about Sept. 10. By Sept. 18, Dixon had interviewed both subjects and had drafted the outlines of an agreement with Eaton. The agreement provided that Eaton would sever personal and social relationship with the employee outside of what is needed to perform office duties and submit all employment-related decisions involving him for review and approval by county commissioners.
Eaton signed the agreement in October. Elliott, who was county commission chairman during 2012, signed it as the county’s representative.
The documents indicate that everyone involved was satisfied with the outcome, and the employee told Human Resources in January that Eaton was complying with its terms.
Elliott said Friday he believes the county took the necessary steps to investigate and resolve the issue.
“I would say that with the recommendation of our human resources director and outside counsel that this understanding and agreement reached by the parties resolved the issue and we were willing to accept the settlement,” Elliott said.
Eaton has said in court papers that she had been friends with the man since the mid-1980s and had hired him in 2005. Before and after she hired him, Eaton also said she had bought life insurance from him.
Some of the documents indicate the employee had been receiving unwanted attention from Eaton long before he joined her staff. Notes of a Sept. 12 interview with the employee, conducted by Dixon, said he described Eaton’s attention toward him in the 1990s as “stalking.”
Those attentions continued after he joined the office, but he “did not report these behaviors to HR because ‘he didn’t have the guts’” Dixon quoted him saying. “He thought he could deflect it. Now it’s affecting his health, creates stress — turns off his phone after work so he doesn’t have to see Kim’s messages. ... The stalking was unrelenting” at times.
“Advances either occurred in-person at work, or Kim would send text messages to his personal phone,” Dixon wrote. “Other employees are clearly aware of this situation. Some joke about it. Some have actually referred to (the employee) as ‘Kim’s b----.”
For her part, Eaton told Dixon in a meeting on Sept. 18 that she admitted sending the explicit photo. She also said she had sent text messages because “she believed her feelings/interest in the employee were reciprocated.”
Eaton, who has been clerk since 1992, also agreed during that meeting to “immediately discontinue her advances toward him and offered to apologize if that would help.”
The Herald-Republic in early January filed a public records request to obtain information about the complaint after receiving an anonymous tip. The county had intended to fill the newspaper’s request and notified Eaton.
In response, Eaton filed a lawsuit in Kittitas County Superior Court and obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting release of the information by Yakima County. She then obtained a preliminary injunction, and a hearing was held Tuesday to determine what, if any, records should be released.
The records released Friday show a gap following the Oct. 9 agreement until Jan. 7, the same day the newspaper filed its public records request. On that day, a woman described as the man’s co-supervisor told Dixon that the man had recounted to her that Eaton visited his home in late November prior to him having an undisclosed surgery. The man said she showed up wearing a coat and pajama bottoms to bring him sweatpants and slippers.
On Jan. 10 the man told Dixon in an interview he believed the tip to the newspaper about the complaint had been politically motivated. He said he would support Eaton if she chooses to run for re-election. Her current term runs through 2014.
“He stated that Kim’s attentions toward him have decreased in frequency and level of intimacy and he is very satisfied with the change in her behaviors that resulted from the manner in which the previous issue was addressed/resolved.”
• Investigation documents mentioned in the print version of this article are temporarily unavailable online.